Thoughts from a Former Street Evangelist
by Erin Thomas
Big felt panels and large pails of cheap tempera paint would grab people's attention. Preaching the gospel on a street corner using visual aids and talking as loudly as possibly would move the Spirit and connections would be made–at least, that's what I was taught in theory. On my first short-term missions trip, I discovered the reality beyond the theory.
When one woman with her young son stopped for a millisecond to hear the fiery Word of God being preached and black paintings of crosses splashed across flip charts, she snorted, grabbed her son by the arm, and practically spat: "Never stop for these people. They're selling religion!" More often than not, people skirted to the other side of the street to avoid us.
I began fading more and more into the background in an effort to dissolve into the crowd. I was embarrassed. Humiliated. I felt guilty for being ashamed of Christ, but it took me a while to realize that I was not ashamed of Christ but rather was feeling the awkwardness and oppression that our audience was feeling.
When I made the effort to be honest, I realized that I didn't want any of that either: people talking in my face, shouting over crowds, pushing literature at me. I began seeing and hearing evangelism as a nonbeliever would: "You are not taking the time to get to know me; you haven't asked me any questions to build a relationship; nor have you considered the fact that I just might want a friend, a listening ear, someone to take a walk with, share a meal with, argue with, live in community with. Dumping rhetoric onto my shoulders forces me down with such a massive weight that I cannot deal with it. I do not understand it. But you leave before I can reach back to you. That's hardly fair. I don't speak your language, don't understand your words about salvation and glory. If you stopped to ask if I cared about knowing the truth, I might just say yes. But you need to speak the truth with me in my language, together. Why should I listen to you otherwise?"
So when unbelievers walk on by and ignore us, I don't blame them. People are tired. Perhaps just someone to walk beside them in their weariness does more to effect change than any felt display board or demand for cash ever could.
Erin Thomas is passionate for youth & community justice in Lac La Biche, Alberta, Canada.